Even with the hot poker in her eye, the elf did not scream before passing out. Nethamus hated elves, but he had to admit that they had one admirable quality: they never screamed. They might curse, and sometimes even confess, but they always refused to scream, no matter what you did to them.
And he had done a lot to this one. Few humans could have survived what she had endured. She lay motionless on the table, burns and cuts and bruises all over her body. Nethamus had been getting more creative with each elf that fell into his power. One of them, eventually, would tell him what he wanted to know.
His captive on this occasion was a Fire Elf, or at least that’s what humans called the elves with red hair and amber eyes. There were also Silver Elves, Woodland Elves, and the elusive Sand Elves of the desert. Nethamus had managed to capture and question at least two specimens of each of the four breeds.
“My … my name is Fionella,” said the elf on the table. She had regained consciousness, though her voice was still feeble.
“You’ve mentioned that before,” replied Nethamus. She had repeated the phrase often during the procedure, apparently to help take her mind off of the pain. “But I don’t care what you call yourself. People have names. Elves aren’t people.”
“My name is Fionella.”
Nethamus looked at her broken body. He found it difficult to estimate the age of elves. This one was young, but older than a child. Some humans found elves attractive, and even mated with them. The thought disgusted him. This specimen, probably, had been considered beautiful. No longer. “You know, elf,” he said smoothly, “when naked you almost look like a person. Except for that other eye.” He began to reheat the poker in the brazier.
“Please, my lord,” Fionella said. “I am a daughter of the Kin Mother. She will reward you for my return.” Each of the elven races had a queen, called a Kin Mother. The fact that elves were ruled by their women was another reason Nethamus hated them.
“The only reward I want is information,” said Nethamus.
“Please,” she replied, “I’ve told you everything I know.”
“No,” said Nethamus, flushing with anger, “you have not.” He stirred the coals with the fire iron. She would pay for that lie. As he waited for the metal to heat, his anger abated. Control your emotions, he told himself. It was too easy to become enraged and lose focus when talking to these creatures. “You will tell me the secret of magic,” he said after a long pause, calmer now.
Fionella tried to reason with him. “There is no secret to tell, my lord,” she said. “Magic is natural to my people. We do not learn to cast spells any more than we learn to breathe. We just know how. It cannot be taught.”
Nethamus had heard this excuse many times. “That’s an old elven lie,” he said. He knew that elves kept secrets. They had come to Edaira centuries earlier, and had taught the humans how to read and write, but they had refused to teach them magic. What right did they have to keep that knowledge for themselves? Nethamus thought of himself as a scholar. He would learn how to cast spells, no matter how many elves he had to kill in the process.
By good fortune, in his studies he had discovered a substance that rendered elves weak and unable to use magic. Whenever possible, he drugged a lone elf and brought it here, to the library in his secluded manor, and conducted his inquiries.
Interrogating elves had produced some interesting results. Bit by bit, he had forced them to divulge their true origins. Each elf told him a little more. He decided to see what this one would add to the story. If he got it talking, he reasoned, it might reveal what he was really after.
“So, elf,” he said, “tell me about the Shimmerrealm.”
“Don’t play stupid,” he said. “I know all about it. The elves tell people that they came from the forests, or the stars, or some other fairy tale. But I know the truth. You come from another world called the Shimmerrealm. A world of magic.”
“It’s a world of evil now.”
“Ah, so you do know about it,” he said with a smile.
“We try to forget. It is cursed.”
He had heard this before. Perhaps he could pursue this line of questioning from a new angle. “Who cursed it?” he asked idly.
The elf closed her one good eye and turned her head away.
“Who cursed it?” he asked again, no longer smiling. Maybe he was on to something.
“You do not want to know,” she replied.
That made him angry. He grabbed the red-hot poker out of the brazier and prodded her bare abdomen, burning the flesh. She gasped, but did not scream. “Who cursed it?” he shouted.
Fionella trembled, as if she feared answering the question more than pain. Nethamus seized her by the throat and brought the hot iron to her remaining eye.
“Who?” he demanded.
She relented. “Dar Aramak,” she said, almost a whisper.
Nethamus drew the poker away, surprised. This was something new, a name he had never heard.
Fionella winced, as if the name caused her pain.
“Who is Dar Aramak?” he asked.
She was whimpering now. “No, no,” was all she could say.
Nethamus was furious. He again brought the fire iron up to her eye. “Who is Dar Aramak? WHO IS DAR ARAMAK?”
He shoved the rod in her eye. Her body tensed and then went limp. She had lost consciousness. Without screaming.
Nethamus tossed the poker across the room. It hit a bookshelf and clattered to the floor. “Curse the gods,” he said as he strode over to the window and threw open the shutters. He stood glaring into the blackness of the night, his fury raging.
To calm down, he forced himself to think about something else. He looked up. The Silver Moon was not out. As always, the Dead Moon, an unmoving black orb barely perceptible against the starry sky, was overhead. Nethamus had long been fascinated by the Dead Moon, and had amassed an extensive collection of writings about it. According to the oldest stories, the moon had once been bright red. For some reason—the legends were vague and contradictory on this point—the light went out of the moon and it came to a dead stop. Some primitive tribes insisted that the Dead Moon was not a moon at all, but rather a hole in the sky that led to another world. Many people believed that the moon was bad luck. One old fishwives’ fable said that every moment spent looking at the Dead Moon reduced one’s lifespan by the same amount of time.
Nethamus smiled as he looked into the night sky. Common folk were certainly capable of believing a lot of nonsense. As a scholar, he was beyond such superstitions. He took in a deep breath, enjoying the cool air. Better now. Tonight had not been a complete loss. He had learned something new. Dar Aramak. Who or what could that be?
He stared idly at the Dead Moon, repeating the words aloud a few times, hoping the sounds might bring something to mind. Dar Aramak. Dar Aramak. The phrase meant nothing to him. Perhaps it was the name of a mighty sorcerer from the Shimmerrealm. Or a demon. Or a god. If the elves feared Dar Aramak so much, he must be powerful. He could be the key to unlocking the secret of magic.
Nethamus walked back over to the elf lying on the table and looked for signs of life, but there were none. His rage had gotten the better of him. You damn fool, he told himself. It would have been helpful to ask this specimen a few more questions.
He pulled a thick, leather-bound book from the shelves—a dusty tome on obscure myths—and sat in his overstuffed chair. It had been a long day. He would dispose of the body later. For now, he would see if he could dig up any reference to Dar Aramak in the old texts.
Nethamus opened his eyes with a start. He had drifted off to sleep while reading. Something had awoken him. It was the elf. A gurgling sound was coming from its throat. I guess I didn’t kill it after all, he thought. A lucky break. Back to work.
“Still among the living?” he asked with feigned cheer as he stood up and put the book away. He picked the poker up from the floor and carried it back to the brazier.
“Let’s see, where were we? Oh yes. Who is Dar Aramak?” he asked while stirring the dying embers. “Who is Dar Aramak?” he asked again, more insistent.
“I am Dar Aramak.”
Nethamus stopped short. A chill went up his spine. The voice was not the voice of an elf. It was deep and raspy. Otherworldly.
“Wh … what did you say?”
“My name is Dar Aramak,” said the voice, slow and measured. “You have summoned me.”
Nethamus was dumbstruck. “Summoned?” he repeated in a meek voice.
“You wish to know the secret of magic.”
“Yes,” said Nethamus, recovering. “I do.”
“To cast the spell of invisibility,” intoned the voice, “encase an eyelash in the sap of the nightblossom….”
Nethamus rushed over to his writing desk, grabbed quill and parchment, and began to write. The voice droned on without pause, describing magical rituals in detail, while Nethamus recorded every word. There was much he did not understand, but he wrote it down nonetheless. He filled page after page.
“… a compound of one part brimstone and two parts bat guano. Dry it over heat and form it into a ball….”
When Nethamus ran out of parchment, he snatched books and scrolls off the shelves and scribbled in the margins. There was no time to pause. He did not ask questions, fearing that any interruption would bring an end to the recitation. On and on this went, for how long he could not tell.
“ … to complete the animation of the dead, repeat the phrase Animus necris Dar Aramak, Animus necris Dar Aramak.”
“Animus necris Dar Aramak,” Nethamus repeated as he wrote. He was still writing furiously when he realized that the voice had stopped. He put down the quill, rubbed his eyes, and looked up from his desk, weary but exhilarated.
The elf was standing right before him, her naked body battered and bloody. Her empty eye sockets were glowing red. As was the iron rod in her hand.
Nethamus screamed as she thrust the poker through his eye and into his brain.
The body that formerly belonged to an elf named Fionella shuffled to the open window. It looked up into the night sky, its eyes still radiant. The Dead Moon began to shimmer with a faint reddish glow, as if a dormant ember had been rekindled. Almost imperceptibly, the body’s mouth formed a smile. Dar Aramak had discovered a whole new world.